Bravo Italia

I did go in to Pisa.The rain was bucketing down but I had my raincoat and we just walked fast and got on with it. We dropped the passengers off at the field of miracles and Erin and I went for Pizza and wine and long talks about Topdeck. Pisa is one of the very few Italian cities that does not really interest me. I have spent time there years ago when travelling with a friend and we did not find it as interesting as other places. It’s still good for eating though!
Pisa in the rain!
It was still raining as we came in to Florence but it stopped as we were setting up the cook tent and walking down to dinner. Our campsite is up on a hill on the side of the city. Our tents are situated between groves of olive trees and it has beautiful views over the city. It is the only campsite we stay at that you can walk in to the city from and I think that makes it special as well. I was sad to see this time that the space in the camp has been halved after the community has re-claimed their land and that they are slowly moving their business to another camp further down the river. Topdeck has been staying here for decades so it will be sad when it ends.

The walk down to dinner is via Piazzale Michelangelo. Florence is so beautiful that I feel a physical reaction to her sight (cities are almost always women). From Piazzale Michelangelo up on the hill she spreads through the valley from the towering roof of the Duomo out to the foot hills and along the river Arno. If she were a woman her skin would be the golden, beige and cream colours of her buildings, topped with terracotta red roofs/curls. The green and white of the Duomo sits double the height of the surrounding buildings and it’s massive dome is a wonder even in this day and age, I can’t imagine what people would have thought of it when it was first built. Santa Croce church and the Palazzo Vecchio also have towers that rise above the other rooftops, their spire and turrets stand to show what is important here. Religion, and money, power and art. The Ponte Vecchio catches the eye as the bulkiest bridge on the river. I don’t think it is the most beautiful bridge but it’s appeal is in the romantic stories and old traditions that are captured in it’s shape.


On either side of the city are rolling hills. They are a dark dark green dotted with red terracotta roofs that sit admiring the city. All of the houses faces seem to watch her like lovers. On Piazzale Michelangelo there is a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s David. The perfect man and one of my favorite works of art. His sling tossed over his shoulder he faces in the direction of the sunset (I have already said that there is no better place in the world to be when the sun is going down). His serious face looks at the city as she is lit by the fiery light as though he were watching the woman he can never have. Florence sits calmly, aware of her charms, but above all the petty admirers.

First the hills are touched by the rays and each house is brought in to sharp relief. My ideal house is on the top of a hill opposite the campsite. I look at it each time and imagine how it would be to live there. Next the river Arno looks as though it has taken the sun underneath its waters entirely. Its curves have a golden light all of their own and they glow, illuminating the bridges and buildings on either side. Lastly the tops of all the buildings in the city are made bright on one side and shadowed on the other, creating a dramatic landscape for as far as the eye can see.

I. Love. Florence.

We walked down the hill and crossed the river to the House of Sizzle. This is where we go for our dinner each time and the staff welcome us warmly and feed us rich delicious pasta and meat, lining our stomachs for the night ahead. The night ahead played out in the Karaoke bar next door. The Red Garter was pulsing that night, there were 4 Topdeck groups in and at least 3 contiki and they crowded around the stage, everybody wanting to sing. I got up early with Diana who chose ‘don’t stop believing’ and then then much later in the night I got up with Erin to sing ‘Fancy’. I had a great night that didn’t end until late when I walked back up the hill with a passenger and fell in to bed for just a few hours before breakfast.
Karaoke at the Red Garter

That morning was a struggle. We had a hot breakfast of Tomatoes, eggs and mushrooms and for myself, several cups of coffee from the campsite bar. Erin walked the group in to town to meet with their local guide for a walking tour and I waited at camp, cleaning my gear, getting washing done and checking out the potentially amazing event that was going on up at Piazzale Michelangelo. They were setting up for the Florence gelato festival but I found out that it wouldn’t be starting for a few days which crushed my heart a little bit.

After Erin, Zsolt and I had napped for a bit we struggled again to get up and in the perfect weather that they day had managed to turn in to we walked down to town for lunch. We went to the Topdeck favorite restaurant, Francesco Vini’s and I had a Florentine steak salad which hit the spot and was only improved by the gelato I had afterwards of custard and mascarpone with caramelized figs. This gelato shop is going to be my new favorite in Florence I can tell.


So close to heaven…
After lunch we wandered the city. Ducking in and out of shops and winding our way down streets we have never been to before. Zsolt says this city is his favorite, it is definitely mine and I know it holds a soft spot for Erin as well. I find it strange that so many Topdeck trips spend only 1 night here before they hurry off to Rome. To me this city is essential and you could spend a week here and still be satisfied with plenty to do. I am glad that all the camping trips stay 2 nights.
When we eventually got back to camp we found most of the passengers at the bar drinking and having dinner and I joined them for some wine and chats. I had a pretty early night though as I was shattered from the last few nights and this morning I am feeling better for it.
It rained again all last night and this morning. We re-located breakfast to the bar undercover and now are speeding our way through the rain to Orvieto and then Rome. It will be interesting if it is raining there too. Nothing like a 4 hour walking tour of Rome in the rain!
Fabio gets a lift up to Orvieto
It stopped raining! We got to Orvieto and it was fine if a little cold. Orvieto is a little Italian town in the Umbrian region that is situated on the top of a hill with steep cliffs surrounding it. It has been settled from as far back as the Etruscans and was used as a popes residence at times as well and so it has a lot of history. We only stop there for about 2 hours and so our main things to do are to visit the Duomo and eat wild boar. The Duomo has some of the most intricate mosaicking I have ever seen on the front and the sides are striped white and a dark green. Some trip leaders trick their groups in to licking them saying it tastes like peppermint but Erin realised that she had tricked our group one too many times for that to work.
We went to a specific restaurant for lunch and this time I had the wild boar pasta on Erin’s recommendation and it was just phenomenal. It is going down as one of the best pastas I have had, Parpadelle with tomato sauce and rich and gamy boar. So so good.
It was still fine weather as we drove down to Rome and by the time we got to the campsite I changed in to shorts to set up the tent which is much better weather for a Rome walking tour! I had a personal accomplishment when for the first time ever I managed to put up the cook tent by myself. I was supposed to be waiting for Zsolt but I thought I’d challenge myself instead. Perhaps only those that have done a trip will realize how hard this is, suffice to say, I will not be doing it again in a hurry, it was lucky I didn’t hurt myself.  After I got to chat to some Rome staff who are always a pleasure to come back to. And of course the site crew Kat and Alexis. I went shopping for a few hours in a nice familiar shopping center with intentions of coming back and cooking my lasagna but I got distracted by eating dinner and chats and drinks.
Lasagna time!
That night wasn’t supposed to be a big one at the bar but we had half of our passengers leaving the next day so it was farewell drinks for us which turned in to dancing and partying until late.
The next morning was a massive struggle to get up for but I was up at the tent cooking bacon and eggs for their breakfast and to my surprise most of them were able to get up and grab something to eat before their Vatican walking tour. I had a big cooking day then, making my 3 cheese lasagna that I hadn’t the night before, Bruschetta and Tiramisu. I wanted to get a bit experimental with my Tiramisu inspired by my ice-cream the other day in Florence. So I caramelized some figs to add in to the cream mixture. After a quick skype session with mum it was 1.30 and nap time.
Erin met our 4 joining passengers, 3 guys from Aus and one from NZ whilst I snoozed and when she was done we went to the shops together and Erin even tried driving left hand drive! (only in the car park though). There wasn’t a lot to do for dinner as I had done it all in the morning so I prepared lunch for the next day and talked with the many people who stopped by my tent for a chat. At dinner we had a nice mixture of leavers and joiners who all loved the meal. That night was a cross-dress party at the bar and there were 4 groups in so it was busy. Cross dress night is the funniest thing to look at. So unattractive for both guys and girls but as long as you are not looking to pick up it is hilarious. Another cheeky smoke bomb at 1am and I was dead to the world in no time.
Cross Dress, so sexy
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